For the second time ever, a rescued sea otter pup has gone on exhibit at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. She is 16 weeks old and weighs just over 17 pounds, but growing by the day! You can see her with her companion, Joy, in our sea otter exhibit or on our live web cam.
Sick and Stranded
The young female was found stranded on Morro Strand State Beach, San Luis Obispo County on June 30. She was picked up by staff from the California Department of Fish and Game and the Marine Mammal Center, and transported to the Aquarium's Sea Otter Research and Conservation (SORAC) program for assessment and care.
On arrival, she was examined by aquarium staff veterinarian Dr. Mike Murray, who saw she was dehydrated and malnourished. Sea otter mothers usually wean their pups around six to seven months of age. Aquarium staff believes this pup was prematurely weaned from her mother in the wild.
Dr. Murray also suspected acanthocephalan peritonitis, a condition caused by eating sand crabs infested with thorny-headed worms. Sand crabs are a likely prey item for a young animal that strands near the sandy seafloor habitat, where this pup was found. In young or weakened animals, the worms can migrate through the intestinal wall and cause an often-fatal infection.
Proceed with Caution
Tests confirmed peritonitis and she is receiving ongoing treatment, including antibiotics and a de-wormer (much like you'd give your dog!) delivered via frozen clam cubes - a little trick invented by our staff. Yum!
According to Andrew Johnson, manager of the SORAC program, because of her medical condition, she faces a long period of treatment and care and is not a candidate for return to the wild. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has authorized the aquarium to manage the pup in the sea otter exhibit.
What's in a name?
The pup is currently known as 502. This is her intake number into our SORAC program, which has been sequentially numbering stranded sea otters brought to the Aquarium since 1984. As you can see, that's over 500 animals, with many returned successfully to the wild.
Given her ongoing medical condition, she will continue to be called 502. It may seem odd to us, but much like a pet, animals don't know a name from a number and she will be indifferent! Once she's fully rehabilitated, we can determine the best permanent home for her, either with us or another accredited facility, and she'll receive an appropriate name.
At just four months old, 502 has a lot of learning to do, including essential otter skills like foraging, grooming, diving and cracking clams. Fortunately, she’ll have a good teacher. Among our Aquarium otters, Joy is a veritable super-mom.
“Joy is 12 years old and has raised 12 pups – more than any other surrogate in our program,” says Chris DeAngelo, associate curator of mammals. “Her calm presence and nurturing maternal instincts should be just what this young animal needs to move forward.”
Though not officially in a surrogate mother role on this occasion, Joy has plenty of skills to impart to a young animal. Even though 502 had lived in the wild without a mom, she was very happy to meet Joy. DeAngelo said with a smile, "The pup went from a teenager to an infant." Talk about taking advantage!
They were introduced to each other behind the scenes the morning of July 20. By mid-day, the precocious pup was stealing food off Joy’s chest (a good sign) and Joy was grooming and taking care of her new charge.
Eventually we may introduce other otters to the exhibit, including the Aquarium’s first-ever exhibit sea otter pup, Kit. Kit is currently behind the scenes serving as a companion to several young animals that are scheduled for release to the wild.
Meanwhile, 502 is working her magic as only a young sea otter can: enchanting staff and visitors alike. We hope you can come and visit her soon. They grow up so fast!